Thursday, April 29, 2010

Neruda's Canto General: Canto XII from The Heights of Macchu Picchu

This week I would like to highlight the Canto General- quite a different piece composed by Pablo Neruda. If you missed my previous posts on the April is Poetry Month Neruda series go here to catch up. Neruda is known for his romantic poetry, but I think it is fair to say he was an all time material presence through the various types of poetry he wrote- not just in the sensual and romantic. Canto General is Pablo Neruda's tenth book of poems. It was first published in Mexico in 1950, by Talleres Gráficos de la Nación. Neruda began to compose it in 1938.

From Wiki:
"Canto General" ("General Song") consists of 15 sections, 231 poems, and more than 15,000 lines. This work attempts to be a history or encyclopedia of the whole continent of Hispanic America.

Neruda certainly had an ambitious objective to cover as an epic poem, the history of Hispanic America and its people.  He did it so well that the Canto General was intoned by several musicians and is probably better known as the oratorio (sort of like an opera) for two voices, mixed choir and orchestra by Mikis Theodorakis based on the epic poem.  Theodorakis was known for his scores in the films Zorba the Greek (1964), Z (1969), and Serpico (1973).

The15 Sections of the Canto General:
* First Canto. A Lamp on Earth
* Second Canto. The Heights of Macchu Picchu
* Third Canto. The Conquistadores
* Fourth Canto. The Liberators
* Fifth Canto. The Sand Betrayed
* Sixth Canto. America, I Do Not Invoke Your Name in Vain
* Seventh Canto. Canto General of Chile
* Eighth Canto. The Earth’s Name is Juan
* Ninth Canto. Let the Woodcutter Awaken
* Tenth Canto. The Fugitive
* Eleventh Canto. The Flower of Punitaqui
* Twelfth Canto. The Rivers of Song
* Thirteenth Canto. New Year’s Chorale for the Country in Darkness
* Fourteenth Canto. The Great Ocean
* Fifteenth Canto. I Am
1. ^ According to "Canto General English/Title" search of The Library of Congress

The Heights of Macchu Picchu is a long, complex spiritual poem. Split into 12 sections, each is written in dense surreal images. 
Go here for the BBC's h2g2 summary and explanation of the the poem The Heights Of Macchu Picchu.

Canto XII from The Heights of Macchu Picchu

Arise to birth with me, my brother.
Give me your hand out of the depths
sown by your sorrows.
You will not return from these stone fastnesses.
You will not emerge from subterranean time.
Your rasping voice will not come back,
nor your pierced eyes rise from their sockets.

Look at me from the depths of the earth,
tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,
groom of totemic guanacos,
mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,
iceman of Andean tears,
jeweler with crushed fingers,
farmer anxious among his seedlings,
potter wasted among his clays--
bring to the cup of this new life
your ancient buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow;
say to me: here I was scourged
because a gem was dull or because the earth
failed to give up in time its tithe of corn or stone.
Point out to me the rock on which you stumbled,
the wood they used to crucify your body.
Strike the old flints
to kindle ancient lamps, light up the whips
glued to your wounds throughout the centuries
and light the axes gleaming with your blood.

I come to speak for your dead mouths.

Throughout the earth
let dead lips congregate,
out of the depths spin this long night to me
as if I rode at anchor here with you.

And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.

Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.

Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.

Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.

Pablo Neruda

The following is a video of a famous intonation of America Insurecta from Canto General. From a concert in Belgium in 1981. Petros Pandis is the male singer who first interpreted this composition together with Maria Farantouri

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